Today the people of Scotland voted on whether to become an independent country. The polls closed about an hour ago.
Don’t let the silence of this blog on the issue fool you into thinking I was not interested in the campaign. Far from it. I’ve been following the battle as closely as work and family life will allow. Despite exhibiting the Englishman phenotype, I have Scottish ancestry (coal-miners of Fife, poets of Edinburgh) and of course lived, worked and loved in Scotland for many years. It always felt, and still feels like my country.
So I’m a natural unionist, and the promotion of division, separation and the creation of a new barrier (however conceptual) makes me feel sad. That said, many of the arguments for independence are beguiling. There is something enticing about a political tabula rasa. Talk of building a nation is inherently constructive and delivers an endorphine shot.
I’ve picked probably the most useless time to post a blog on this issue. The polls have closed so I cannot persuade anyone. And yet none of the vote tallies have been reported so there is nothing to analyse. Its funny to think of all those marked ballot papers, piled and yet to be counted, and consider that the result already exists as a fact of the universe, even if no-one knows what it is yet. Schrödinger’s Scotland: is it independent or not? We have to open the box to find out.
Last month, the essential Labour Campaign For Human Rights (LCHR) launched Our Human Rights. Its a campaign to highlight how the European Convention of Human Rights, and the British Human Rights Act, have helped ordinary citizens get what they need and deserve from the state.
Too often, human rights laws seem distant from the ordinary person. They are portrayed by those hostile to the concept as being little more than a tool for terrorists and illegal immigrants to game the legal system. As I have written before, speaking about human rights only in terms of the most extreme cases does not persuade the ordinary voter of their importance. Continue reading
Today The Herald has published an opinion piece by me, urging reform of the libel law in Scotland.
Incredibly, the cradle of the Enlightenment offers fewer free speech protections than England and Wales. This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.
Read the whole thing in the paper, or at HeraldScotland.com.
In the past few months, I’ve given over a couple of posts to the Labour Party and human rights. See my report of Yvette Cooper’s speech, or Sadiq Khan’s speech, for example. As such, its worth bookmarking a recent Daily Telegraph piece by Khan, on the Human Rights Act, and Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights.
The lay-reader may appreciate a quick overview of these human rights mechanisms. First, the European Convention on Human Rights incorporates basic protections into a Europe-wide treaty. The UK government must protect human rights because it has signed a treaty saying it shall do so—the rights have not been ‘imposed’ on us by European bureaucrats. The convention also establishes a court (at Strasbourg) to hear cases of human rights abuses. We in UK and the other signatory states are bound by the rulings of the court because we chose to sign the treaty. Continue reading
King Juan Carlos is to abdicate. I love this simple poster design, campaigning for a referendum on the future of the monarchy.
The abdication reminds me of the point I made in last week’s post about MP recalls, where I said:
If the electorate cannot get rid of their representative outside of election time … I think its is only fair that the representatives cannot rid themselves of their electorate either.
I think a similar principle holds for monarchies. If the hereditary principle means that people cannot choose their head of state, then its inconsistent and wrong for the monarch to be able to choose whether or not they serve as head of state! If we allow blood-lines to play a part in our constitution then we have to accept whatever gaffe-prone idiot that genetics throws up… and that idiot is stuck with the populous too.
To my mind, a single abication undermines the whole idea of hereditary monarchy. Any country where that happens should transition to a full democracy with an elected or legislature-appointed head of state (I prefer democracies with a nominal, not executive president but I’m sure there are arguments for and against both models). I hope that the abdication of the Spanish King triggers a referendum that ends the anacronism.
The European and local elections are just one day away and there are plenty of pre-mortems around about the rise of UKIP, the disintegration of the Liberal Democrats and the failure of both the Conservative and Labour parties to build public support.
There are also lots of anti-political sentiments around too. On the Today Programme at the beginning of the week, we heard from some British voters who were lamenting the poor quality of our politicians. They’re duplicitous and lazy, apparently.
What’s lazy is that attitude.
The questions that preoccupy Philosophy students often cause them to be teased by their peers. In my case, ontology was the big hilarity, as we studied the history of philosophers asking, “how do we know that this chair actually exists?“. My science-studying friends ribbed me for examining something that was (in their eyes) completely futile. I do not have the wit to explain to them that the same thought processes should lead us to examine whether other things could also be trusted to exist—scientific data, for example.
Discussion around house prices has flared again. Right Move have published data showing that house prices in London and its orbit have risen 2% in the past quarter, and 10% in the past month alone. (These figures seem so extraordinary I wonder if we need a freshman philosophy student to ask whether they actually exist! Meanwhile, Right Move calls them ‘unsustainable‘)
We know that house prices do not really exist in the same way that our chairs exist. They are constructs of human interaction, a rough guess at the point of intersection on a supply-and-demand graph that no-one actually gets to see. Continue reading
I’m glad that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.
This is not because I do not applaud her bravery and support her fantastic campaigning work. Rather, I worry about the effect of thrusting the prize onto someone so young.
Previous Nobel Laureates have reported that winning the prize is incredibly disruptive to their career. Peter Higgs, who was awarded the Chemistry prize last week, tried to escape media inquiries. But they tracked him down eventually,
Our media is full of stories of child prodigies pressurised into excellence and unhappiness. Child actors regularly seem to end up in rehab units, and the career trajectory of child pop-stars like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus makes everyone uneasy. We angst over the plight of Royal babies, born into incredible wealth but no privacy. Continue reading
In the past couple of months I have been making notes on the Labour Party’s approach to human rights. Here’s a quote from the conference speech given by my MP, the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan:
What happens when you cut back judicial review? You betray bereaved families, like the Hillsborough campaigners, who can’t challenge terrible decisions.
What’s the outcome of cutting legal aid? The family of Jean Charles De Menezes, the innocent Brazilian man shot at Stockwell tube station would no longer have access to expert lawyers in the future. Nor indeed the Gurkhas or the Lawrence family. It’ll be harder for victims of domestic violence to break away from abusive partners.
Writing in the New Statesman, Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan brazenly declares that the Liberal Democrat’s record in Government has left Labour as the party of civil liberties. This has kicked off predictable outrage from Lib Dem activists and in the comments, with most people citing the poor record of the last Labour government.
Despite the Blair Government’s terrible approach to civil liberties and counter-terrorism, its wrong to call Khan a hypocrite. For starters, he was one of the Labour rebels who voted against Tony Blair’s 90-day detention policy, back in 2005. More recently, he has admitted the party’s mistakes on human rights and civil liberties. Part of his Charter 88 anniversary lecture was a scathing critique of the last Labour Government’s approach:
And I hold up my hands and admit that we did, on occasions, get the balance wrong. On 42 and 90 days, and on ID cards, where the balance was too far away from the rights of citizens… On top of this, we grew less and less comfortable with the constitutional reforms we ourselves had legislated for. On occasions checked by the very constitutional reforms we had brought in to protect people’s rights from being trampled on. But we saw the reforms as an inconvenience, forgetting that their very awkwardness is by design. A check and balance when our policies were deemed to infringe on citizens’ rights.
If an opposition spokesperson says this, I think they ward off the charge of hypocrisy when they subsequently criticise the civil liberties failings of the Governing coalition. We want political parties to admit their mistakes and reverse their policies, don’t we? Whether the voters believe Labour or not is another matter, but I think the fact that the spokesman is someone who was a Government rebel on 90 days, and who has been a target of surveillance himself, make Labour’s position that little bit more credible. Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, included similar nostra culpas in her Demos speech on security and surveillance.